The existence of God has been one of the most fundamental questions that human philosophical thoughts have debated from time to time. According to the modern and pragmatic arguments, believing in God, not considering whether or not God exists, is useful to humanity. Blaise Pascal’s wager holds that believing in God is a virtuous action for human beings, regardless of the conformity of the existence of God. ‘Pascal’s Wager’ may be comprehended as referring to an argument by Blaise Pascal for believing or for at least making necessary steps to believe in God.
However, it is often maintained that the name is fairly ambiguous, “for, in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as ‘Pascal’s Wager’.” (Pascal’s Wager). It is fundamental to realize that according to Pascal, believing in God is rational, even in the absence of any evidence that He exists. However, there are several objections against this view of faith in God including the “Many Gods Objection”. In this paper, the focus has been a profound understanding of the arguments by Pascal in relation to the “Many Gods Objection” and an analysis of the probable response of Pascal to this criticism.
French philosopher, scientist, mathematician, and probability theorist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is known for his arguments in favor of theism. It is basic to recognize that Pascal has provided a pragmatic reason to believe in God. Accordingly, the latent advantages of believing in God are immense even if it is assumed that God’s existence is dubious. Significantly, Pascal “argues that if we don’t know whether God exists then we should play it safe rather than risk being sorry.
The argument comes in three versions, all of them employing decision theory.” (Saka). In his argument, Pascal makes use of a two-by-two matrix: either God exists or does not, and either you believe or do not. In the explanation of Pascal’s argument, it becomes evident that theists have the advantage of eternal bliss if God exists or they have finite happiness if God does not exist. That is to say, theists have a greater benefit in comparison to atheists, despite whether God exists. Therefore, believing in God, according to him, is most rational and justifiable. This may be realized as the super-dominance argument made by Pascal.
According to the decision matrix, the “wagering for God super dominates wagering against God: the worst outcome associated with wagering for God (status quo) is at least as good as the best outcome associated with wagering against God (status quo); and if God exists, the result of wagering for God is strictly better than the result of wagering against God.” (Pascal’s Wager). In fact, it does not matter if the result is greatly superior or not, and at this point, Pascal makes the conclusion that wager for God by a human being is completely supported by rationality.
If there is a half-chance for the existence of God, the Expectations Argument can explain the advantage of atheists. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains this calculation as follows. “The expectation for believing in God = positive infinity x ½ plus something finite x ½ = positive infinity; the expectation for not believing = negative infinity x ½ plus something finite x ½ = negative infinity. Hence it is rational to believe in God.” (Saka). The Dominating Expectations Argument also gives clarification to Pascal’s thought which maintains that there is every possibility that the theist enjoys greater advantage by believing in God, irrespective of the confirmation about His existence.
To congregate the various arguments together, Pascal’s Wager has mainly three principles. First, one can either wager for God or wager against God, regardless of the existence of God. Second, according to rationality makes it credible that one consigns to the existence of God absolutely and not microscopically. Finally, rationality also requires one “to perform the act of maximum expected utility (when there is one).” (Pascal’s Wager). The conclusions of the arguments by Pascal specify that rationality requires one to wager for God and that one should wager for God.
However, objections to the arguments by Pascal are manifold which have turned to be classic in the modern-day. Intellectualism denies the Pascalian reasoning as it is practically impossible and evidentialism refutes it as epistemically negligent and immoral. More significantly, critics of the many-gods objection hold that “Pascal’s wager begs the question and hence is irrational.” (Saka). The many-gods objection basically questions the argument by Pascal on account of the existence of several gods in the world.
Thus, they raise the question of whether rival religious options undermine each other. Denis Diderot, the compatriot of Pascal, questioned the wager and maintained the point that “decision theory cannot decide among the various religions practiced in the world; it gives no warrant for believing in Pascal’s Catholicism, or even in a generic Judeo-Christianity.” (Saka).
“The many-gods objection to Pascal’s wager attempts to show that matters are not so straightforward. The problem is, of course, that despite appearances, Pascal’s betting partition is not exhaustive.” (Jordan, 101).
According to the many Gods objection, Pascal’s matrix requires more columns if the argument should be valid. It is mainly because there are several religions and Gods in the world. If Pascal’s argument that reason is invalid for the wager for God holds true, it would mean that other theistic arguments are also equally valid. It is apparent that Pascal was concerned about the Catholic conception of God when he formulated the argument.
Assuming that the Catholic God is the One who either ‘exists’ or ‘does not exist’, the many Gods objection puts forward its criticism. As this presumption is excluded from the middle, this is a partition. “The objection, then, is that the partition is not sufficiently fine-grained, and the ‘(Catholic) God does not exist’ column really subdivides into various other theistic hypotheses. The objection could equally run that Pascal’s argument ‘proves too much’: by parallel reasoning, we can ‘show’ that rationality requires believing in various incompatible theistic hypotheses.” (Saka). Thus, various critics came up against the arguments of Pascal in reply to which the Pascalians offered a number of defenses.
A major defense by the followers of Pascal against the many Gods objection may be understood in terms of ‘genuine options’, a notion never clearly defined. There are various interpretations of ‘genuine options’ and this tries to justify the argument by Pascal. There is another defense in terms of run-off decision theory which attempts to merge pragmatic and epistemic factors in a two-stage process. “First, one uses epistemic considerations in selecting a limited set of belief options, then one uses prudential considerations in choosing among them. Alternatively, one first uses prudential considerations to choose religion over non-religion, and then uses epistemic considerations to choose a particular religion.” (Saka).
Relativism and generic theism are other significant methods to question the arguments by the many Gods objection. According to relativism, the Wager is deeply relative to Pascal and his peer group of the 1600s, unlike the modern context. At the time, the only possibilities were Catholicism and agnosticism. Similarly, generic theism holds that though wager by Pascal cannot decide among religions, it can lead one to theism. The defense of Pascal against the many-gods objection can be effective as there have been several criticisms against the arguments of the Many-Gods Objection. Thus, one finds Jordan concluding that “despite the antiquity and facile popularity of the many-god objection if wager fails, it does so due to some problem other than the many-gods objection.” (Jordan, 111).
In conclusion, it becomes apparent that the arguments by Pascal claim that it is rational to believe in God even in the absence of any evidence that He exists. Known as Pascal’s wager, this argument has been refuted by some contemporary criticisms. A one seemingly serious objection to this argument has come to be known as the ‘Many Gods Objection’ which may be understood as ‘many Gods’ problem.’ That is to say, this objection mainly criticizes the argument on the basis of the existence of various Gods in the world. If Pascal had to refute this objection, he would have used the methods such as ‘genuine options’, run-off decision theory, relativism, and generic theism.
Pascal’s Wager. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008. Web.
Saka, Paul. Pascal’s Wager. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006. Web.
Jordan, Jeff. Many-Gods Objection. Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager. Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.